St. Paul looks to add music and arts classes after many schools fall short

St. Paul Public Schools leaders are working to understand why many of their schools offer too few courses in music and the arts.

The state requires elementary and middle schools to offer at least three courses in dance, music, theater or visual arts; students must take at least two of those courses.

A principals’ survey in response to a parent’s 2017 data request revealed 19 of 56 St. Paul district schools were not offering the statutory minimum number of music and arts classes.

Only half of the 14 schools with students in grades 6-8 met that criteria in 2017-18, and American Indian Magnet had just one such class.

At the elementary level, 12 schools fell short, including American Indian Magnet, Bruce Vento and Farnsworth Upper Campus, which offered only one course each.

School board member John Brodrick said the district risks losing kids to competing districts if the student’s local school doesn’t offer what they want. Parents, he said at a board meeting Tuesday, “are very concerned” about arts and music.

St. Paul elementary schools generally have specialists teaching music and visual art, but regular classroom teachers teach the arts, as well. Roughly one in four fourth and fifth graders stays after school for free instrumental music instruction.

The district also has a progression of magnet schools that emphasize the arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Jan Spencer de Gutierrez, the district’s arts supervisor, thinks more St. Paul schools now meet the state’s expectations in music and the arts compared with two years ago.

Superintendent Joe Gothard made providing a well-rounded education a part of the strategic plan he unveiled last year. Toward that end, he’s established a committee that’s working with principals to collect more information on the courses they offer.

Beyond ensuring schools are offering classes outside of the core subjects, that group is looking at encouraging low-income and students of color stick with music once they get to middle and high school.

Music and arts program manager Robin Lorenzen said students who can’t afford private lessons tend to get discouraged and quit.

The committee also is working on ensuring music and arts teachers go beyond “heroes and holidays” when introducing multicultural content.

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